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Understanding the referral game

Understanding the referral game

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By Stewart Bell ·
March 07 2019

Understanding the referral game

I want to share something with you about the topic of referrals and what needs to happen for you to generate referrals in your business fast, as well as the mistakes you'll make that will stop you from doing so.

First, let me give some context.

There are four ways you can generate leads into your business: traditional marketing, client referrals, partnerships and direct selling.

By the way, when I talk about generating leads, I'm not just talking about brand new clients. Too many advice firms think "marketing" and stop at new clients. This is a big mistake.

Frankly, if you're not marketing consistently to your existing client base - sharing with them more of what you do, more of the opportunities ahead of them and giving them information ready-made to share to their friends, family and colleagues - you're playing until halftime.

In today's connected world, you are going to lose clients if you do it that way. I'm seeing it happen, so please stop thinking about marketing as being just new clients. Marketing is everyone you have contact with.

Back to the main point of this story.


Within our program, we have around three core modules designed around referrals.

In the back of our members' site, I can see who accesses these. To me, I think anyone wanting to generate leads consistently should choose to make these modules their first stop.

Often, they don't though. What's that all about? Even when I ran a referral session at one our live workshops, the follow through wasn't as strong as I'd expected.

I've got a fair idea of why this is so and I'll outline it here.

Referrals are not an event.

Anyone who does a "referral campaign" is missing the point.

Referrals are about staying top of mind with the right people, giving them the ability to get you in front of their clients or connections, and letting them know issues and topics to identify in those friends and colleagues that would predicate contact with you.


There's this line I often see at the bottom of emails. It goes like this.

"If you know anyone who might be interested in our services, please let us know."

This is lazy, as it relies on the end user to know three bits of information.

  1. "...anyone..." Really? if I was asking you to find my lost child, do you think I'd tell you to search for any lost child? No. I'd give you a very clear description of what my child is wearing, what they look like, and anything else that would help me find them. I'm trying to make it easy for you.
  2. "...who needs our services..." The massive assumption here is that your clients understand what your services are and who might need them. You're essentially requiring clients to be experts about your business to market you to others. That's your job, not theirs.
  3. "...let us know " Is the best way to get somebody to make contact with you rely on a third party to encourage contact? The whole point of an introduction is that moment where that middle person gets to say, "So and so, meet so and so, and I think you should connect because of this reason". That's an intro. Anything else is vaguely hopeful.

You need to control this process, not just allow it to be vague and fluffy.

Would you build a website based on "we provide our services to anyone who needs them?" No, you wouldn't. That's soft, ineffective marketing, so why do you do it in your referrals?

Wham, bam...

Some businesses approach referral marketing like this is speed dating.

"Hi, my name's Stewart. I need referrals. Can you give them to me? Maybe? Great. Let's talk about how you can give me more referrals..."

Seriously. That's never going to work.

If you decide referrals are your marketing avenue of choice, you need to build a relationship over time with those who are already in your own network, to the point it becomes a natural thing.

So let's talk through the process.

  1. Analyse your existing network.

Recently I sat down and made two lists.

The first was called Power Partners. These are people I've done work with or alternatively, we've already had a referral relationship but for whatever reason, it slowed down. These people I have a connection with and it's really a case of me putting the hours into re-establishing those relationships.

The second list is called Potential Networks. These are people I already have a connection with, but we've yet to enter into any form of referral relationship, but I believe that there could be something there.

This list is going to be really important for the next bit.

  1. Put in the time

Every day, you need to reach out to five people on that list.

Ideally the power partnerships you want to be talking to them weekly, twice weekly, connecting with them, top of mind, asking them what they're doing.

The other people, I would suggest you need to be doing it at least once a month, but it depends how hungry you are for this.

  1. Stop asking for leads

Instead, start asking, how can I help?

The truth is people will feel good about you and help you if they feel good about themselves in relation to you.

  • Stop your interactions being focused (externally or internally) on you, and instead start by asking how you can help them.
  • Can you promote them to your network, run a webinar, do an interview or share something from them?
  • Can you go onto social media and follow them, promote them, share them or like them, and devote energy to making yourself a big part of their life because you add value?

This is the key. If you are seeking to establish a referral relationship, you're missing the point.

What you should be aiming for is a relationship that eventually turns into a partnership.

There's more (we're doing a major coaching project on this in the coming month), but this is a good start.

So, let me ask you a key question, and let's be honest with each other. If you've tried referral marketing and it doesn't generate results, then stop and be honest with yourself.

  • How often are you doing it (really)?
  • How much are you putting into it (really)?
  • When was the last time you did a marketing activity with someone out there (really)?
  • How many times a day do you connect with someone on that list (really)?
  • Do you even have that list (really)?

Be honest with yourself.

Are you really doing referral marketing, or are you just looking for someone to send you referrals?

There really is a world of difference.

Stewart Bell is founder and business coach at Audere Coaching & Consulting

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